by Thérèse Wassily Saba

I always look forward to David Russell’s performances. I sometimes ask myself, if I could choose the program, what would I most like to listen to? Then the list starts in my mind: Bach, Couperin, Albéniz, Granados, Tárrega, Giuliani . . . not in any particular order of preference, as I find his approach to the works of all of these composers so enlightening. In the end, I always am relieved that it is not me who decides on his program!

However, after hearing his performance at Kings Place, I now know which piece I would put at the very top of my list: Suite Compostelana by Federico Mompou. Russell gave an unforgettably beautiful performance of this piece. His interpretation used all the detailed aspects of his playing that I so admire in his performance of other works, but added a picturesque range of tonal colors, which were delicately shaded and full of variation—a reminder that he is the son of painters. A Spanish pianist and composer, Federico Mompou used to teach at the international summer master classes of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, as did Andrés Segovia, for whom the Suite Compostelana was written. Russell studied the piece with José Tomás, who took over Segovia’s teaching post in Santiago de Compostela. This gives Russell an even stronger connection to the piece he generously shared with us.

The other music on his program was also outstandingly played. The Partita No. 1 (BWV 825) by J. S. Bach moved into a completely different soundscape, appropriate to the Baroque style. The piece was originally written for keyboard, but Russell played the technically challenging transcription by the German guitarist Gerhard Reichenbach, and what was most absorbing about the performance was Russell’s poetic phrasing of the musical lines and the elegance of his ornamentation. The clarity and phrasing of the individual voices were also exemplary in Isaac Albéniz’s “Capricho Catalan,” “Granada,” and “Asturias;” Russell plays his own transcriptions of these piano works. The recital ended with a flourish: the “Gran Jota” by Francisco Tárrega, which he played with a touch of humor, wit, and the requisite show of technical virtuosity.

This solo recital was part of the four-day International Guitar Foundation Guitar Summit at Kings Place in central London. As the IGF has a strong commitment to promoting up-and-coming guitarists through its Young Artist Platform, its evening recitals feature young musicians as support artists—a practice with a long tradition in performances of other styles of music, aside from classical, as well. Thus, at the start of the evening, we heard the Flauguissimo flute and guitar duo, with flautist Yu-Wei Hu and guitarist Johan Löfving. They gave a fine performance of a new IGF-commissioned piece by the British composer Charlotte Bray called “Here Everything Shines,” which had a good natural flow of ideas and a discernible momentum that held our attention throughout.

When Xuefei Yang gave her solo recital on the following evening, her young supporting artists were the Mela Guitar Quartet—George Tarlton, Matthew Robinson, Daniel Bovey, and Jiva Housden—who deserve a mention. They demonstrated an impressively unified approach which stood out immediately, beginning with their own transcription of an “Organ Fugue” (BWV 578) by J. S. Bach. They were equally strong in their playing of contemporary music, giving fine performances of “Opals” by the Australian composer Phillip Houghton and Stephen Dodgson’s “Change-Ringers” (inspired by bell-ringing “changes”), which they have recorded on a soon-to-be-released all-Stephen Dodgson CD.